An organization's talent is often recognized as one of its most important assets. However, the same talent cannot fully contribute towards the organizational success if not empowered. Innovation Empowerment can help raise the workforce's engagement and, in turn, positively influence the organization's profitability and help sustain that behaviour overtime as well. On the flip side, lack of empowerment can lead to the perception that innovation is secondary, less important or even undesirable. Even though it is extremely valuable to empower organizational talent, unfortunately that is rarely the case. This is one of the common challenges that obstructs an organization's ability to innovate.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself while assessing and addressing this challenge in your organization:
Is innovation expected only from specific departments/personnel?
Some companies see innovation as a responsibility of a few for e.g. Product Development, Innovation teams. What about sales or accounting or HR? Limiting innovation may hinder the organization to fully embrace it and also negatively affect empowerment culture. To address this, the top leadership must be onboard with the idea and be open to transform the organization at all levels and create a strategy around it. The goal should be to develop an ecosystem where innovations, especially incremental, are seen as a key ingredient to every job. In that case, the Innovation manager should be responsible for developing such as ecosystem instead of just focusing on innovations themselves.
Are efforts measured towards the vision?
It goes without saying that the top leadership must support the strategic vision towards innovation empowerment but even then it can take a while before that vision becomes a reality. Therefore it is important to develop and implement relevant KPIs to continuously measure impact of various programs. This will help raise transparency and assist evaluating best innovation empowerment practices for your particular situation.
Does the innovation time generate value?
Spending time on innovation related activities such as problem analysis, ideation, prototyping should be encouraged. But it is also important that that time is reported and measured against defined goals for innovation to help continuously improve the process. This also provides clarity for the employees leading to better focus. However, the time spent should be perceived as fun and not forced.
Is innovation only limited to certain planned days/hours?
As just stated above, there are obvious benefits of dedicating time for innovation but it is another thing to be able to innovate only during certain times of the week. If the goal is that Innovation is perceived as a natural part of everyday work, then focusing on Innovation only on special occasions can be less empowering. Organizing competitions and hackathons could be great to promote innovation but colleagues should feel empowered to take necessary actions as soon as the eureka moment strikes during daily work as well!
What is an "acceptable" innovation in your organization?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ambitious, but if the benchmark for an "acceptable" innovation is the next "cash cow" then it becomes an intimidating task and can raise barriers for people to contribute. Ideally, we would want to generate many ideas and encourage testing. Secondly, bulk of innovations in an organization usually come from incremental innovations anyways so promoting those also help raise empowerment.
Relying too much on "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude?
Often experienced leaders are hesitant to tinker with the status-quo. This attitude can impair employee responsiveness to change. One of the great advantages of empowering co-workers towards innovation is to proactively challenge the way things are done in order to respond to ever changing environments and market needs. This is also important in developing a conducive environment where leadership skills can flourish.
At the end of the day, empowering colleagues to innovate is easier said than done and few organizations truly "live" this spirit. The reasons can vary a lot but a quick analysis of the above points can help you gain a sense of how much an organization embraces innovation which will help further define possible steps moving forward.